Recent Commonplace Entries


“If you land with a group of little boys, they are more like scaled-down society than a group of little girls would be. Don’t ask me why, and this is a terrible thing to say, because I’m going to be chased from hell to breakfast by all the women who talk about equality. This has nothing to do with equality at all. I mean, I think women are foolish to pretend they’re equal to men — they’re far superior and always have been. But one thing you cannot do with them is take a bunch of them and boil them down, so to speak, into a set of little girls who would then become a kind of image of civilization, of society.” (William Golding, in an undated interview, from NYT, September 1)

“But then this is Alan Acykbourn who has yet to pass the basic test of excellence in a play: quotability. I doubt if anyone can recall a single line from any of his works.” (Lloyd Evans, in the Spectator, August 19)

“The science of intelligence analysis is the piecing together of many different segments of information, rather than total reliance on a single source. The overall picture is gained by interlocking a series of small pieces together until the final picture shows a completed intelligence jigsaw puzzle and not a myth.” (Nigel West, A Thread of Deceit: Espionage Myths of World War II, p 126)

“Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.’ (J. P. Donleavy, to Time in 1968, from his NYT obituary, September 14)

“In Modern China, as in Russia and to some degree Japan, there is no tradition of objective historical research. Absurd claims are thus made even by academics, unsupported by evidence.” (Max Hastings, in Introduction to Retribution: The Battle for Japan 1944-1945)

“And I was reminded of Anton Chekhov, the playwright, who, when asked to explain at a rehearsal in the Moscow Art Theater his interpretation of the way one of his characters should be played, could only say, ‘Don’t you see? He wears checkered trousers.’” (George F. Kennan, in Foreword to Around the Cragged Hill)

“We know what we are doing when we actively devise experiments, actively verify and test our beliefs, actively direct our interests and inquiries toward useful and concrete questions  . . . A sequence of abstract thought, and also the stream of our passive impressions together form a sea of ignorance, in which we shall drown, if thought and feeling are cut off from our active interest  . . . Unless we purposefully turn our eyes to look at something that interests us as individuals, we shall literally see nothing in the world, and we shall understand nothing in the real world unless we remember that we freely choose the direction in which to look.” (Stuart Hampshire, in review of The Jameses: A Family Narrative, by R. W. B. Lewis, in New York Review of Books, October 10, 1991, p 4, quoted by George F. Kennan, in Foreword to Around the Cragged Hill)

“The mass, the broad public, the people, or whatever you would like to call it, may not be the ‘great beast’ that some have seen it to be; but collective psychology, particularly in its exalted and demonstrational manifestations, is a much more dangerous phenomenon than individual psychology. Humorless, unreflective, anxiously conformist, it sometimes reveals certain of those qualities – self-centredness, persecution mania, and uncontrollable suspiciousness – that, when encountered in the individual, we would associate with real mental disturbance. But even where these extremisms are lacking, the collective understandings and expressions of any serious social or political ideal are apt to be at best a caricature of the original. I cite this as the basis for my own extreme dislike of all masses of screaming, chanting, flag-waving, and fist-shaking people, regardless of the cause that may have enlisted their enthusiasm. They may not always be entirely wrong in whatever it is they are trying to bring to expression; but you may be sure that what they are crying out for, in their slogans and banners, is oversimplified and largely devoid of serious merit. So strong is my conviction on this point that if ever  a mob of this sort were to be found chanting what purported to be a version of any of my own thinking, I would be appalled, certain that I was being (and that it could not be otherwise) seriously misunderstood and misrepresented.” (George F. Kennan, in Around the Cragged Hill, p 83)

“I had at one time the impression that I was a rare bird among those who had taken a long-standing professional interest in Soviet affairs – a rare bird in the sense that I had never gone through what was often called a Marxist period, a period, that is, of fascination with, and enthusiasm for, Marxist doctrine. I had been put off at an early date by a  number of the features of that doctrine: by the egregious oversimplifications with which it abounded, by the heartless rejection, and consignment to the outer depths, of entire great categories of mankind (not only the so-called bourgeoisie but all others except the ‘proletariat’), and, finally, by the shameless polemic exaggerations and distortions by which all this was regularly carried forward, not to mention the appalling cruelties committed in its name.” (George F. Kennan, in Around the Cragged Hill, p 97)

“I recall being told by our ambassador to one of the East European countries that when the government of that country, for purely political reasons, forced the curtailment of the size of the American embassy staff from eighty-some to fifteen, it was in his estimation the best thing that had ever happened to them.” (George F. Kennan, in Around the Cragged Hill, p 147)

“All politicians seek to amend their own records. Roosevelt told many untruths, and Churchill’s war memoirs are shamelessly self-serving.” (Max Hastings, in Retribution: The Battle for Japan 1944-1945, p 463)

“Rees-Mogg has stepped out of the 18th-century remake of The Code of the Woosters, while Hannan has the constant tra-la-la effusiveness of a man forever on his way home from choral evensong at an Oxford college.” (Philip Collins, from Britain’s New Gaullists, in Prospect, October)

“Many young Germans are extraordinarily ignorant about the Nazi period. Some older ones seem less troubled by historic guilt today than when I first began meeting their generation, a quarter of a century ago.” (Max Hastings, in Introduction to Armageddon)                                                                                             “He has also taken on the country’s postwar culture of atonement and remembrance of that period, calling for Germans to ‘take pride in the performance of German soldiers in two world wars.’” (Melissa Eddy and Steven Erlanger on Alexander Gauland, co-leader of Afd, quoted in NYT, September 24)

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